Darien boys tennis team aces rival Rams as playoffs near
Bobby Neuner and Neil Gandhi are the lone seniors on the Darien boys tennis team and, as such, are in the key leadership roles of team captains for the Wave.
Now, they’ve lead Darien to a victory it hasn’t experienced in more than a decade.
The Blue Wave swept the doubles matches and won three of four singles contests as they defeated the rival New Canaan Rams 6-1 last Thursday at the DHS courts. The win ended a stretch of four matches in four days for the Wave, and was their first victory against New Canaan since 2007.
“We haven’t beaten them in at least the last seven years, so it’s been a long time,” Neuner said. “We have a great team this year and everybody’s been working really hard. It’s been a long week but this is a great way to finish it off. I’m really proud of all the guys on the team. Everybody competed really hard today and I was happy with the outcome.”
Both Darien (12-3) and New Canaan (12-2) are FCIAC-playoff bound and could meet at some point in the conference tournament. They’ll also be two of the contenders for the Class L title in June.
Many of the matches last Thursday were close, with two doubles matches going to three sets, both resulting in Darien wins. The No. 4 singles and No. 1 doubles matches were two-set sweeps for the Wave; all four of those sets were close.
The closeness of the contests, combined with the rivalry factor, was a great test for the players on both teams.
“There is a little bit more pressure when we’re playing against New Canaan, so it’s interesting to see how kids handle it,” Gandhi said. “Our teammates were cheering each other on, which gives us a little boost of confidence to go and compete a little better. Once you settle into the match, you kind of relax a little more and start hitting shots.”
“I’m proud of the guys the way they conducted themselves and handled adversity during the match as well as after the matches,” New Canaan head coach Ben Young said. “They kept fighting and no one was hanging their heads low. The guys stayed behind their teammates and tried to rally them up.”
The top three singles matches were all two-setters, with the Wave taking two and the Rams winning once.
Neuner defeated New Canaan’s JJ Lee 6-2, 6-2 in the No. 1 match, while Matt Brand defeated Darien’s Nick Derby 6-3, 6-2 in the No. 2 spot.
Ethan Zhang took the third spot for the Wave, defeating Sai Akavaramu 6-1, 6-1.
In the fourth spot, Darien’s Ian Wise earned a 7-6, 6-4 win over New Canaan’s Ben Graham, who shifted from doubles to singles.
The Wave’s No. 1 doubles tandem of Gandhi and Romano DeCaprio won a hard-fought match with New Canaan’s Luke Crowley and Alessandro Sulpizi 6-4, 7-5.
In the second doubles match, Darien’s Tyler Cramer and Chris Calderwood won the first set, but New Canaan’s Jamie Cutler and Griffen Dayton came back to win the second. Cramer and Calderwood eventually squeaked out a 6-1, 3-6, 11-9 victory.
The Rams’ Jack McCarthy and Aryan Pal won their first set at third doubles, but Darien’s Sergei Doroshin and Alex de Castro answered with a win in the second. The Wave pair then won the match in the third 1-6, 6-0, 10-7.
“They were all competitive matches,” Neuner said. “There were a couple of three-setters which we won, thankfully, but they were still tough.”
Both teams were complimentary of their opponents after the match.
“New Canaan is an amazing team with a lot of great guys,” Gandhi said. “We’re all friends and we play together during the winter. We know them and they’re great players, so it’s great to win against them.”
“My hats off to Darien,” Young said. “They played very well top to bottom. Those guys really brought it intensity-wise and I really think that today they were the better team. I hope that we can run into them again in the future. We always want to play Darien win or lose, but even morso now. They earned it today.”
The FCIAC playoffs kick off next week and for the Wave, which is still in the hunt for a quarterfinal home match, the confidence is high.
“We’ve gained a lot of experience in a quick amount of time,” Neuner said. “It’s a short season, so it’s nice to have those matches going into the playoffs. We’ve solidified the lineup a little bit more. Some of the doubles teams have chemistry with their partners now, so it should be good going into the FCIACs and states. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. We’re confident.”